Activists say the crackdown began early this month with passage by the pro-Kremlin Duma majority of a new law that imposes tough penalties on anyone who takes part in a non-sanctioned political gathering and steep fines for organizers if any infractions occur during a permitted one.
Then on June 11, police raided the homes of eight protest leaders, seizing cash, computers and vast quantities of "political literature."
Since then, more than a dozen people have been arrested and charged with involvement in "disorders" that allegedly took place during a mass protest rally on May 6, the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for an unprecedented third term as Russian president.
Other odd occurrences include the flight abroad of investigative journalist Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, after his life was allegedly threatened by the powerful head of the Kremlin's Investigative Committee and Putin protege Alexander Bastrykhin. Mr. Bastrykhin first denied making the threat, but later visited Novaya Gazeta's offices to apologize. "I didn't have the right to explode but I exploded," the pro-government daily Izvestia quoted Bastrykhin as saying.